A Search For What's Inside An Egg Benedict
What's in eggs Benedict?
From the bottom up:
English muffins. Unfrozen is best. Their split halves should be toasted to crispness. Tearing the halves apart with a fork or with hands, rather than slicing them, increases their surface area, and therefore also their flavor and absorbancy. Few restaurants bother. English muffins need not be the soft, yeasty, most popular Thomas's brand. Actually, they should not be, since Thomas's standard muffins are too small and their sandwich-size muffins are too large. Matthew's is a good retail brand of English muffin in the New York City area.
Canadian bacon. Standard bacon comes from pork "bellies," the underside of the hog, along the ribs. Canadian bacon comes from the meatier loin, along the backbone. It is trimmed of excess fat and is cured like ham. Often, ordinary ham is substituted in eggs Benedict. Canadian bacon should be freshly grilled, but is always packaged presliced, which does not improve flavor or texture. Technically, it is "Canadian-style" bacon if it is not of Canadian origin. Canadians do not eat it more than any other pork-product-loving people, though they may call it back bacon or pea-meal bacon.
Eggs. Poached till whites are set but not chewy. Vinegar may have been added to help set the whites, but that should not be detectable. The yolk can range from runny to almost set. The yolk should be hot during cooking; it is a very special bonus if it's still hot, yet not too thickened, when it reaches your table. Excess white is sometimes trimmed before serving.
Hollandaise sauce. A hardly cooked beaten egg yolk, gently thickened with hot drawn butter, plus a squirt of lemon juice and/or dusting of paprika or similar spice. The lemon flavor and/or spice should not be overwhelming. Hollandaise should not be too buttery, which overwhelms the flavor of the poached eggs and Canadian bacon beneath it. Low-end eggs Benedict is served with instant hollandaise sauce.
Side dish. Potatoes, especially home fries, an excellent foil for mopping up stray yolk and sauce. Roasted potatoes also are common.
Beverages. Juice, mimosas, and bloody Marys are popular. Coffee or tea complements or finishes the meal.
In eggs Florentine, the most common variant, spinach is substituted for Canadian bacon. Many restaurants reviewed here offer eggs Florentine as an alternate entrée for ovo-lacto vegetarians willing to enjoy eggs and butter.There are many eggs Benedict variations, including sausage, fish, shellfish, or poultry replacing the Canadian bacon; salsa, pork gravy, guacamole, olives, chutney, or bernaise or mustard sauces replacing the hollandaise; lime, mustard, or peppers spiking traditional hollandaise; and stuffed bread, cubed bread, or pizza replacing the English muffins. There are some classic recipe plus variants that include toast and tomato sauce, or green-onion sauce and harissa and lamb hash, or hangar steak or prosciutto. Variants are worthy, especially if you eat eggs Benedict once or twice a week.
Who was Benedict?
Eggs Benedict are not:
- The culinary indulgence of Benedictine monks.
- Named after the Revolutionary War traitor for the dish's use of Canadian bacon and English muffins.
- The name of a South African Web design firm. (Well, it is, but who cares?)
The classic myth. In the 1860s, a Wall Street banker named LeGrand Benedict, a regular patron of Manhattan's ritzy Delmonico's restaurant, complained that he was bored by the menu. The response of chef Charles Ranhofer was this dish. A variant origin myth credits, instead of the Ranhofer, the Delmonico maitre d'hotel and Mrs. Benedict. The name of the chef, and indeed any real facts about the genesis of eggs Benedict, are lost to history. The new Joy of Cooking (Scribner, 1997) dates the dish in the 1920s, and says the original base may have been toast.
The revisionist myth. According to e-mail to this site from Cutts Benedict, eggs Benedict was born when his father's cousin, Lemuel Benedict, a Wall Street broker, asked for toast, bacon, poached eggs, and a "hooker" (pitcher) of hollandaise, all as a hangover cure, in 1894 at the Waldorf Hotel, where maitre d' Oscar Tschirky -- once the headwaiter at Delmonico's -- then added it to the menu.
The least credible claim that it was invented at Brennan's Restaurant in New Orleans.
Image Courtesy: thepioneerwoman